How to Make NaNoWriMo Especially Difficult

Photo credit: kpwerker on Flickr
Ah, NaNoWriMo—thirty days of manic writing where writers across the world attempt to race to 50,000 words in thirty days and achieve the coveted title of NaNoWriMo winner, as well as other goodies and a brand, sparkly new manuscript.

I've written a couple posts over the last month or so about NaNoWriMo, including foolproof (not) advice on How to Be a NaNoWriMo Champ, and well, I may have accidentally taken some of my own not-actual advice.

Up until this year, I'd never done NaNoWriMo before—and truth be told, I wasn't sure if I was really participating even while I was actually attempting to reach those 50,000 words. I quietly pounded away at my keyboard while asking myself, wow, am I really doing this?

Now that we're in the final stretch of NaNoWriMo and I've just recently passed the 50,000 word mark, I think it's safe to call myself a 2012 NaNoWriMo participant. I just made it much more difficult for myself than necessary.

To give you an idea of what exactly I mean, here is my word progress chart thingy:
As you can see, my chart is a little unconventional to say the least. There I was, ahead of target for the first thirteen days, then—BAM—I went from roughly 24k to 760 words.

Yeah. That happened.

Now, you're probably wondering what exactly that was. If you just looked at my chart, you might guess that I had a hard drive crash or something equally horrible that wiped out all my progress, but alas, technical difficulties were not the problem this time—no, it was the WIP itself.

You see, while I was plotting my potential NaNoWriMo novel in October, I had a new idea hit me. One that wouldn't leave me alone no matter how much I tried to ignore it—one that kept nagging at me even as I continued to faithfully plot my original NaNoWriMo WIP idea. I told myself that I would write it later. That after I finished this other story, I would go back and write the new idea. It wasn't Shiny New Idea Syndrome, per say, if only because I hadn't started writing either novel yet, but it was an idea, and it was distracting and truth be told, I probably should have taken the hint from my subconscious and tried brainstorming a few plot points for the new idea if only to prove to myself that it could wait.

But I was stubborn, and I was going to stick with my original idea no matter what because I'd already started plotting it and it was a good idea. A cool premise. One that could potentially be marketable, while the other idea was a little more questionable in that regard.

So when November started I dove into the original idea I'd now plotted halfway and I told the other idea to be quiet for a couple weeks. A couple days into the month I read this post by Beth Revis, who had written 10,000 words, then cut nearly all of them and talked about why she was proud of her decision to do so. I thought it was rather brave of her and continued writing.

Roughly 15,000 words in, however, a nagging suspicion began digging into the back of my mind—one that said that I was writing the wrong novel. And I resisted for a while—I told myself it was too late to turn back now, that I'd already written so much and if I was really going to do this NaNoWriMo thing, then it was too late to start over. Then I remembered what I'd read just a week earlier on Beth Revis' blog about how the point wasn't to win NaNoWriMo—it was to write, and to write the right story.

I kept trying to make the WIP work. I wrote another 9k, but I was dragging—worse, I was dreaded my writing sessions. Me. Not wanting to write. At all. It was unlike me, and quite frankly, it was ruining the fun of writing a novel to begin with.

I came to realize that if I continued with this WIP I may very well reach 50k, but it would be 50,000 words that I didn't even like very much. It would be the start of the story that I wasn't passionate about anymore—and I hadn't even reached the editing part. And really, what would be the point?

So I took a chance. I opened up a new document and started writing the story that had demanded so fiercely for my attention. And 700 words in, I fell in love with the characters. It was like magic, guys, two pages into the story and I knew this was what I was supposed to be writing. This was my NaNoWriMo story.

Except, you know, I'd lost two weeks.

Being the competitive person that I am, I decided that I would try to win anyway. I did the math and figured I was going to have to write over 3,000 words a day to reach 50k by the end of the month, and I buckled down and did it. And you know what? I had fun—hell, I'm still having fun. It's not the best thing I've ever written—far from it, really—and I don’t know if anything will come of it, but it's different and it feels right.

And I now have 50,000 words of a WIP I'm actually enjoying. And in the end, that's what really matters.

Now you've heard my NaNoWriMo war story—I want to hear yours. For those of you participating (or who have ever participated), how did your NaNoWriMo experience go? For those who didn't, what have you accomplished this past month?


Khai said...

Ava, this is a fascinating post and leaves much to be considered for people who may consider tackling NaNoWriMo next year. The little chart you made is awesome. :) Congratulations on 50,000 words, but more importantly, congratulations on spending at least a couple of weeks on something you enjoyed writing!

I spent November on my own personal NaNoWriMo 10% Project. 5,000 words of focused, polished prose in a month. For someone like me who gets caught editing, this was probably just hard as I hear NaNoWriMo was for others. I passed the finish line today and just ate a big slice of cheesecake to celebrate!

I'm also doing a book giveaway on my blog from tomorrow in return for people's support and encouragement, so drop by if you want to try and win a copy of The Streets, by Anthony Quinn. :)

J. A. Bennett said...

Holy cow, you're amazing! Way to go! You conquered NaNo twice, in my opinion. Too awesome. great job!

Colin_Kerr said...

Wow. Fifty thousand words in a month is fantastic, and even more laudable with a restart thrown in.

It has me contemplating code reuse. When I code for a database application, and it's not working, we use a revision control system to create multiple branches. With a low time cost, we can switch between different approaches to the same problem. Also, we use code libraries, like building blocks of useful pieces that accelerate bigger tasks.

I wonder what it would mean for other professions to have the same tools. A digital painter can have stroke-by-stroke undo and redo, but they can't fork their painting, at least not as simply and elegantly as code monkeys do. Writers, likewise. Word processors and Evernote and such have made composition and editing more convenient, but the big changes are still pulling teeth.

What about code libraries? What would it mean for musicians or painters to have those building blocks? Would that be samples? Clip art? Found objects? But there's no found object writing, unless you say Post Secrets, or maybe plagiarism.

I suppose I'm curious. What sort of tools would make it easier to revise a book, or start it over? Or is that just an occupational hazard you learn to love?

Ava Jae said...

Thank you so much! It was quite the experience, but I'm very happy with the end result. And congrats on your NaNo achievement as well! :)

Ava Jae said...

Hmm, you pose some interesting questions, Colin. While I believe certain programs allow you to work on different versions of a file at once (don't quote me on this, but I think Scrivener has a feature like this buried in the program somewhere...I'm not 100% sure though, I might be confusing it with another program), I don't have very much experience with that myself. Usually when I have to make major changes or restart, I do it by hand--that is, without a program to do anything special for me.

I often keep multiple versions of the same WIP as I edit, so I always have something to cross reference if I need to. Usually with every draft I complete, I keep a separate version, so that I don't lose anything while making major changes and I can always go back and revive something from a previous draft if I want to. This saves me from making changes that I might decide later on I don't like.

I suppose that's a long way of saying that it's an occupational hazard--but one that you can circumvent with a little pre-planning. :)

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Khai! It was a fun experience, and I'm happy to say that I learned from it. :)

Also, congratulations on completing your 10% project!

Carla said...

It was my first NaNoWriMo and it went great. I reached the target on the early hours of November 29th. Now I'm just one scene to the end of the first draft. So I'm definitely satisfied.
Honestly I was not sure I could make it. I had outlined the novel in October, but I did not "feel" it enough. Then I started writing it and after passing 10k, I realized how I loved the characters. At that time I knew I could make it :)

Ara Grigorian said...

Wow, I thought I was crazy... wait, I am crazy. We're writers. We're supposed to be crazy. Beyond the fact that you finished a novel in a compressed period of time, I think the significant part of your journey is your self-awareness. To realize it, then do something about it says a lot about you as a writer. Congrats!

I had a great run with this, my first NaNo, adventure. I hit the 50,000 mark in the first three weeks, but just as I finished, a sub-plot came up which I couldn't deny. So I did a whole-manuscript revision to incorporate the sub-plot (not the smartest move, but we've established that I'm crazy).

Just last night I finished the revision and in the process increased the word count to just below 60,000. Now I need rest :)

Darth Lolita said...

Oh man. So not done. I lost two weeks and a half and I can't write right now because I have to do essays for University of California (curses! Why did the deadline for that have to be November 30th? ;-;) Plus, despite it being Friday, I have a three hour class at 5:40.

BUT NO MATTER! I WILL WRITE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. I mean, some people wrote the 50k in one day, I can write half of that in half a day, right?

I'mma stop procrastinating rightttt thisss second. Thanks for the boost in confidence! xD I still have a few hours to go.

Ava Jae said...

Congratulations on your first NaNoWriMo win, Carla! I've also found that falling in love with the characters is a huge step towards committing to completing a novel. Wanting to spend more time getting to know your characters can make all the difference.

AJ Bradley said...

WOW, amazing, well done!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Ara! Deciding to start over was a scary decision, but I definitely agree that I learned a lot from the experience. While the novel isn't completed, I'm very happy to have the first 50k written. :)

On another note, congratulations on finishing not only the first 50k, but the extra 10k revision! It's pretty amazing what we can accomplish over the course of a month. :)

Ava Jae said...

You can do it! And remember--whatever progress you make deserves to be celebrated, regardless of whether or not you make the 50k. Best of luck with your writing, both for your essays and otherwise!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, AJ! :)

Emily Mead said...

This is my first year doing NaNo and I thought I would have to MAKE myself write those 1,667 words a day. But as it ended up, I averaged about 5,000 until day 10, when I won. And then continued on to finish the actual novel.

And it wasn't easy. Not every day was a magical "write-ALL-the-words" day. But I had fun and I enjoyed the story. It was a different story to what I imagined in October, but all the better for it - because my characters (bossy things) decided to go in different directions.

Now I'm rewriting my first novel. Which is going to be fun.

Congrats, Ava! It would not have been easy to do what you did :)

Ava Jae said...

I remember you mentioning earlier that you completed the initial 50k in the first ten days--absolutely incredible work! I'm glad to hear you went on to finish the novel and you had fun doing it. I personally love it when the characters surprise me and take control of the story--few things feel quite as fantastic as the characters really coming to life in that way. :)

And thank you! Best of luck with your revisions!

Margaret Alexander said...

First of all, huge congrats on meeting your goal despite the challenge of switching stories at the midpoint, way to write! Second, I highly agree with Beth, it's about the actual writing and setting a goal for yourself, whatever that may be, not just words on paper. I set a lower goal for myself, exactly half of the NaNo goal--25k--but I had already written 25k, so as of today I have a total of 50k. I have more to go, but I'm very glad I stuck to my goal. It sped up my writing and got me closer to the finish line. I have no regrets for the speed at which I went either, it was one that made me comfortable. I'm glad you didn't stick to a story you just didn't connect with. I think that's the worst thing we could do to ourselves is write something we're just not passionate about. Congrats again, Ava!

RoweMatthew said...

Great! I'm happy for you that you could be brave enough to face that problem and come out on top. I hate the thought of rewriting, and I have an idea that once its down it is set in stone. Bad mentality. I didn't do so well. My first weeks was great. Even though I only wrote about 5,000 words, I was writing! Then work took over and I wrote less and less. Not even the self imposed pressure of posting my writing on my website helped. Self-imposed rules do not work for me at all! But I regularly flog myself to deaths for the most meager desires of people around me.

Congratulations anyway and thanks for sharing your story.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Margaret! I completely agree about the actual writing being the important part, not just reaching x-amount of words in x-amount of time. It doesn't matter how much you've written if you don't really care about the story.

And congratulations on reaching 50k!

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Matthew! Unfortunately, in my experience at least, I've found that rewriting is pretty near inevitable. I did find, however, that once I stopped thinking about it as rewriting and started thinking about it as reliving, it became much less painful--and dare I say, even enjoyable.

I'm also a firm believer of celebrating all of our accomplishments, big and small, so congratulations on reaching 5k! :)

Khai said...

Really? It impressed me! :) I used a widget to record my progress, but your chart looks much better!

Ava Jae said...

It's a great feature on the NaNoWriMo site and required very little legwork on my part. I thought it was a great visual though, which is why I included it, and I'm glad you like it! :)

Jen Donohue said...

In 2010 (the year I failed NaNoWriMo), I was slogging at my novel (which is a story I would really like to write, but I guess just not quickly). Then I got another idea halfway through and started THAT novel, which really took off, but still didn't have a clear resolution (I've been a pantser for many years, and have mostly met with NaNo success). I didn't finish either. Between the two wordcounts, I was at something like 35k.

Ava Jae said...

Out of curiosity, did you ever finish either novel?

Jen Donohue said...

I haven't yet, though I have worked on the initial one off and on again. I really need to (gasp) outline it so that I can, y'know, get to the point.

Ava Jae said...

Outlining definitely helps, particularly when the issue is not knowing where to go next. I wish you the best of luck!

Grace Robinson said...

So basically, you wrote a novel in two weeks. :-O I am speechless with awe (and a little envy). ;-)

Ava Jae said...

Well...I wrote 50k in two weeks. The novel isn't completed yet, but thank you! ^_^

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